Football: Phillips opens his account in top flight

Sunderland 2 Watford 0
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The Independent Online
IT WAS just as well for Sunderland that Kevin Phillips made his goalscoring mark on the Premiership last night. The newly capped England striker has his sights on becoming the first Sunderland player since Charlie "Cannonball" Fleming 43 years ago to score 20 goals in the top flight and the First Division champions needed his two opening strikes, a 62nd- minute blast from the penalty spot and a curling shot four minutes from time, to overcome his former club.

There was no disputing the decision that gave Phillips his first chance; Mark Williams tugged Niall Quinn's shirt as the Irishman tried to connect with a Michael Gray cross. And his second was a clinically executed effort, a right foot drive that found the top left corner of the Watford net and leaves them still without a Premiership point.

But there was no disguising the fact that the scoreline flattered Sunderland, who looked as pensionable in the first half as they had for 90 embarrassing minutes at Chelsea on Saturday. After that total eclipse, Peter Reid was no doubt relieved to take his team back to their Stadium of Light, the brick-built 12th man in their promotion success. The Wearsiders won 60 points out of 69 on home soil last season, and with Arsenal due to visit this Saturday, followed by trips to Leeds and Newcastle, they could ill afford a less than maximum return against the Premiership's supposed makeweight team.

Graham Taylor chose not to tinker with his team, naming the same starting XI beaten by Wimbledon at Vicarage Road on Saturday. But Reid made two changes, handing John Oster his debut on the left side of midfield at the expense of Chris Lumsdon and bolstered his midfield with Stefan Schwarz, who, as a Benfica old boy, now boasts the distinction of having played at both Stadiums of Light.

Oster was the first to make an impact, drilling a left-wing corner which Phillips headed into the Watford goalmouth. The ball was hoofed clear, but Oster and the overlapping Michael Gray threatened to open up the Watford defence as they probed down the left early on.

Not that it was one-way traffic. Far from it. The Hornets, indeed, buzzed with greater purpose in central midfield and might have stung Sunderland twice in the opening 15 minutes, first Tommy Mooney and then Richard Johnson firing into the side-netting.

With Schwarz and Alex Rae failing to provide a platform, Sunderland struggled to create openings and were fortunate to remain on level terms beyond the 25th minute. They were also fortunate to have Thomas Sorensen guarding their goal.

The Danish goalkeeper, called up for international duty against the Netherlands next week, was left exposed when his colleagues granted Clint Easton the freedom of Sunderland. Sorensen did well to keep out the midfielder's stinging left-foot drive and then distinguished himself to keep out Alex Bonnot's follow-up shot with another fine diving save.

Having spent 90 minutes as a sitting duck at Stamford Bridge, the Dane was clearly primed for action. He could only watch gratefully as Sunderland survived another close call just before the break as Michel Ngonge shot wide from point blank range, but he produced another superb save to parry a Ngonge drive in the 42nd minute.

Booed off at half-time, Sunderland almost went into the lead 20 seconds into the second half. Rae floated a free-kick to Steve Bould, captain in place of the dropped Kevin Ball, who headed over.

It sparked Sunderland into life, Peter Kennedy being obliged to make a desperate intervention to stop Phillips applying the finishing touch to a Nicky Summerbee cross. It proved to be only a temporary reprieve.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Butler, Bould, Gray; Summerbee, Rae, Schwarz, Oster (McCann, 67); Phillips, Quinn (Dichio, 75). Substitutes: Ball, Helmer, Marriott (gk).

Watford (4-4-2): Day; Lyttle, Williams, Page, Easton; Bonnot ( Gudmundsson, 75), Palmer, Johnson, Kennedy; Ngonge, Mooney. Substitutes: Brooker, Gibbs, Foley, Walker (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Teesside).

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